Amy took her mask off in relief as soon as she sat down in the car. She grabbed hand sanitizer to use while sorting her thoughts before calling Janie. Would Janie have the information she needed? Janie is working out of her home, her duties mostly involve paperwork. Before self-quarantining, she was a great source of info related to high profile cases. Janie’s partner has chronic health issues though, so the medical examiner was happy to let her get her intern hours in at home, to keep her partner safe. She did view autopsies remotely, so she heard Sinha’s thoughts on what he saw as he saw it, she just wouldn’t be able to listen to his discussion with police. If there was information about the body that might support a theory surrounding someone living in the caves, she might be willing to share, as long as Amy kept the information out of papers until it had been released to the public.

Amy pulled out her notebook and dialed Janie, rolling the window down so the car didn’t get stuffy while she made the call. Janie was willing, but needed a promise. She said, “I’ll happily tell you what I think, but only if you do me the favor of trying as hard as you can to squelch rumors that it was anyone, Brand or not, dressed as a woman to conceal their identity. The trans community has enough problems, I don’t want people acting like they did with The Old Lady Killer in Mexico. Cops harassed every woman in the community. And you have to find the information somewhere else before you print it, but it won’t be hard to do. This is an easy conclusion for the public to reach.”

“Deal.” She hadn’t even thought of the possibility of this triggering rising tensions being vented on the trans community. “Shorts and a tank top are gender neutral clothing. Living in the woods, whether Brand or not, could produce someone strong and athletic, whatever gender. Erickson already brought up the lack of a barber shop out there, anyone hiding out in the caves is likely to have long hair. They weren’t dressed as a woman, they were just dressed.”

“All true. Now, the body itself shows exactly what the witness said. Someone cut his ear off with a knife. There are no other spots on the body that show evidence of being removed, or chewed upon. The person who was seen eating his ear apparently was just getting started. The river washed away a lot of trace evidence, they’re still working on it though. So the body itself shows nothing to support the theory of Brand being involved.

“However,” Janie was likely making the little circular hand movement she always does when she says this. Amy smiled, and looked forward to talking to her friend in person again. “Wyatt was heavier than he looked. He carried heavy boxes in and out of his warehouse all day. He may have been short, and he may have looked pudgy, but he wasn’t. Under a thin layer of padding was a lot of muscle. He’s heavy for his size. We don’t know how much the attacker weighed. They were said to be lean, thinner than Wyatt. They were probably lifting someone who weighed more than they did, and then they leapt over a fence and ran, and kept up a good pace. I don’t know if the attacker was using drugs or not, but I know they were strong and healthy, with good endurance.

“I don’t think this could be accomplished by someone living off of a survival diet in the woods. This is not the work of a person living off of trapped rabbits and the occasional deer. If it’s true they are living in the caves, which we have zero evidence of and no reason to suspect other than rumor, they likely raid for supplies on a regular basis to stay that healthy. They may be stealing food from farmer’s fields, perhaps even livestock. They may be burglarizing homes for supplies occasionally. That’s where you’re going to get the best treats. Anyway, I bet that’s what whoever it is does. I bet if you checked cave systems near where there have been spikes in burglaries, caves people know about but don’t go into very often, you’d be more likely to run across the killer.

“They’re already looking in local cave systems, by the way. I heard earlier that some bones were brought in from a cave to the north, they don’t seem to be connected, but I think they should look east of town, closer to the wealthier homes. I already told Sinha what I thought, he agrees and is passing it along to the cops.

“Now, as to how similar this might be to Brand, and I’m only pointing you to stuff on public record here regarding Brand, you’re going to have to wait before you discuss the removal of Wyatt’s ear, but we will release that soon. The body parts arranged on Brand’s altar were removed with what is most likely a hunting knife. The marks on Wyatt’s body are also consistent with a hunting knife.” This seemed to be really thrilling the true crime fan in Janie, she’d been doing her research even before the call. It was fun to watch her pursue her dream.

Janie continued, “There was no evidence that Brand consumed any body parts, there wasn’t even saliva found. However,” Amy smiled, picturing the circle movement. “One of the body parts was an ear, and it was removed with the a similar lift and cut technique, one where the person doing the cutting is probably standing over the body as they cut. This can’t link the body to Brand directly though, it just means that both times the ear was removed it was by someone standing over a body. That isn’t solid, fairly flimsy, but it’s interesting.”

She thanked Janie and put some thinking music on before she started the car and headed to the store. She thought of how strong Wyatt’s attacker had to be, to casually lift someone stronger than them and start leaping over fences and bouncing off of walls. Moving faster than the crowd. Janie was right. They couldn’t have been living off of bunnies and foraging.

There it is again, that rising urge to doubt logical possibilities. It didn’t seem human. Maybe it was. Maybe it was bath salts or some new meth formula from the north hills. Didn’t they crash fast though? How long did it take them to run from downtown to the river? Protesters couldn’t make it the whole way, and there were some rather fit men in the group. Cops had to chase her, or him, down by car. Could drugs let someone go that long, that fast, without a break or not? She wasn’t sure.

She was willing to believe that it could be drugs being used by someone healthy. If the attacker lived in the caves to the east and raided even just their garbage for supplies, they could live off of some high fat diets full of things like quinoa. If they didn’t use habitually, just what they found when raiding for supplies, they might not be held back by things like a weak heart.

It’s just that it sounded too familiar, really. Too much of it reminded her of a story she had heard. Some urban legend she encountered when writing about a campsite found abandoned. She interviewed someone from the university who studied folklore and collected local urban legends. She remembered feeling intrigued by the woman, it was hard to tell if she believed the stories she told or not. Amy wanted to get home to review her notes.

She thought she could get Wyatt’s sister to comment about his build, that would give her enough leeway to nudge the article toward the strength required to lift him. That would give leeway to discuss living in the caves close to town, pointing to an attacker the protesters wouldn’t be hiding. She had the long hair, could maybe say the clothes sound something like what a camper might have in their backpack as emergency clothing, regardless of their gender. She had what she needed, if she hunted Wyatt’s sister down. So, store, then home to the journal. Then time to talk to sis.

The Entomologist

“Oh, she is beautiful. I bet Dr. Fairweather will notice you for this one. You might even get more than just the grant out of him.” She winked.
“Excuse me?” I could never remember this one’s name. Grad students are so temporary lately.
“Was that too forward?” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Anyway, she should help you get that grant for sure. I know you’ve certainly been working hard enough to deserve it.”
“It’s not about me. It’s not even about my work, but she does bring me some hope.” I couldn’t help the smile I felt rising to my face as I put her in the specimen jar.

“I don’t understand, what do you mean the funds aren’t available?” No, no, I needed this grant.
“I’m afraid the last of it went to Dr. Aemulus.” Fairweather wouldn’t even look me in the eye, shuffling through papers on his desk instead.
“But it was promised to me, you told me you would make sure of it.”
“Well, to be frank, she has an amazingly persuasive argument for her cause.”
“Does that argument have anything to do with the weekend you spent together?”
A deep flush spread up to his face from the over starched collar of his shirt. “Don’t be petty.”

The whole campus was abuzz with excitement.
I sipped at the champagne and wished it was mead. I like mead, the child in me enjoys sipping nectar like a bee. Dr. Aemulus came in on Fairweather’s arm and everybody clapped. The grad student said, “This should have been your event.” Incubo. That was her name. Something Incubo.
“Don’t be petty,” I sighed.

“Wait, that’s mine. That’s all mine. What are you doing with my things? That’s delicate equipment, what are you doing?”
Fairweather the betrayer came in, holding his hands up as if to physically restrain me if need be. “Calm down, we need this space for Dr. Aemulus to run her experiments. Your equipment will go down to storage where it will be safe until it’s needed again.”
“Calm down? How do men always think saying that will help?”
“Just be reasonable. The money from forensic research will be far more valuable than conservation efforts. Why are you letting some grad student put a bug in your ear anyway?”
“What grad student? How can you think I’m angry because of a grad student? You’re insane!”

I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a good person. I deserve loyalty. But no, here I am covered in fucking blood up to my arms in these stupid beetles. Necessary forensic research, my ass. This “research” has all been done before, it solves nothing. Nothing.
Out of pure spite, I crumpled his stupid starched collar before dumping more of the flesh consuming beetles over the pair of them. I patted Aemulus’s hair. “Feed your children well,” I whispered.

Fire grew in my heart. Fire grew in my eyes.
Incubo was right. Sometimes, fire is good for the forest, even if some pollinators die. I was wrong to stop the controlled burn the farmers wanted last fall. Sometimes, burning it all to the ground gives room for renewal, for the new, the strong, the helpful, to flourish and grow.
The heat tingles my skin, flush from being so near, the smoke billows to the sky and blows through my hair. I feel so alive. What an absolutely beautiful day.

They found her bones in the ashes. Her grad student stood quietly with the other onlookers as the bodies were carried away.
With a sad smile, Incubo said, “it looks like I will need a job soon. What about you? I hear you’ve been busy, but they haven’t given you the help you need,” the muse of jealousy continued, “Personally, I think you’ve been underappreciated.”

P. S. – This is an old story I’m posting because I’m fairly certain this will be referred to in the upcoming stories for Grim List.

The Souvenir

“Supposedly, Janice Marie Rodgers, age 17, knew nothing of the legend surrounding the item she found when she entered the house. Neighbors saw her walk directly into the home through the unlocked front door, and she was only inside for a brief moment before she walked back out and continued on her way.

As was previously reported, there is no forensic evidence tying her to any activity within the house other than the trail of bloody footprints she left as she walked through Sarah Baker’s blood directly to the display cabinet. There is evidence that she removed a single figurine before turning around and walking out again. There is no evidence tying her to any of the murders in that home, or to the previous tragedies. All evidence corroborates with Baker’s confession, and he claims to have no knowledge of Rodgers. He refuses to discuss the figurine.

It is unlikely that a teenager from a neighboring town with no social ties to any of those involved would have walked directly into a murder scene and have been so unaffected. Currently, investigators believe that Miss Rodgers may already have been on the brink of violence, and her happening upon the scene was coincidental, though likely to have motivated her “psychotic break”. Family and friends state that she seemed like a happy and well-adjusted young woman, and her murder spree is entirely unexpected.

Exactly how the figurine reached Colin David Brand is not known, but it was not found on or near the body of Miss Rodgers. When police raided the hotel room where he lived, it was seen as the focal point of an altar Brand decorated with belongings from his victims, but while police were still in the room, the figurine seems to have vanished. Brand’s whereabouts are still unknown.”

Excerpt from The Liffey Chronicle, May 18, 2018